Songpan (松潘; Sōngpān) is a small town in northern Sichuan. The city is mostly used as a base-camp for exploring the nearby national parks and Tibetan villages, and is additionally visited for its existing remnants of the old city.
There's a bus station at the north end of town, a few blocks north of the north gate of the wall.
The bus station serves major locations in Sichuan, and locations in Qinghai. It can also connect from Xiahe in Gansu, via Tongren and Hezuo. There are also buses from Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve and Huanglong National Park.
The place can take on a very touristic flair in the summer months overrun with bus-loads of foreign and Chinese tourists arriving eager to spend their money on fake knicknacks and souvenirs, give or take the odd cheeseball picture.
You can easily visit the town on foot, but there are a plethora of tricycle taxis if you get tired. Motor cycles and horses can take you for longer trips.
- While largely a modern touristic recreation, tiny parts of the old city walls are still standing (the gates) and can be climbed.
- Guanyin Pavilion. Southwest of town on a hill. Offers a good view of the town and surrounding mountains. The shrine is closed.
- The West Gate. Opposite the horse trekking company, follow the stream toward the dam and take the track on the left. About 45 minutes walk. From there, you can continue in many different directions. In particular, there are paths leading to the foot of two 4000-m summits. (32°42'4145N/103°32'361E)
- Horse treks. Are offered by several guest houses and agencies around town but are serviced by one horse trekking company. Treks can be from one day to as long as a week, and frequently visit Tibetan villages and famous mountains. Prices are usually around ¥200 a day, and include food and camping/village stay. Some of the guides do not get along so well with the local Tibetans, however. Either a 3- or 4-day trip to Ice Mountain will cost the same amount: ¥450. The second day of the 4-day trip is a filler day, where you camp in an extra place, but don't travel very far. Normally you will be riding the horse going uphill, and have to walk near half of the journey on the return downhill trip, in order to let the horse rest. The trek may be physically demanding. Quite limited time on the horse every day, sleeping in tiny tents, the guides do not speak much English. Some guides regularly beat the horses with sticks if you don't like that, it is important to tell the owner of the horse trekking company beforehand that he should tell his guides accordingly. It also helps to tell the guide "no!" very decisively every time he tries to beat the horses after half a day it strongly decreased.
There are dozens of shops in Songpan that sell locally made crafts including colorful textiles, silver jewelry, Tibetan hats, and fake antiques. Bargaining is a must. To get the best price on silver products go to the far southern end of the main street where there are silver smiths. You might get the opportunity to see a silver smith hammering away on a new piece. The prices in these shops are dramatically cheaper than stores just up the block. One product you should not buy are the many furs for sale. The skins for sale have been poached in China or in neighboring countries. Asia's wildlife is quickly disappearing as China's appetite for illegal animal products increases. Please don't contribute to this crisis.
No shortage of small restaurants, Tibetan and Chinese, in town.
- Emma's kitchen. Very good food (with the exception of the pizza!) (western and Chinese) and coffee! They provide Internet, tour information, book swap, laundry service, car rental and booking tickets from Songpan. About 30 m south of the bus station. Turn left on the main road. Very friendly staff.
- Sarah Yang. Good Chinese and Western food. Sarah is also very friendly and willing to share information about Songpan.
- Suan Can Mian Kuai is a Tibetan soup with square-shaped homemade noodles, potatoes, and yak meat. You'll recognize it as having an orange or red color. There's an excellent small family restaurant run by friendly Hui people (Chinese Muslims). If you walk out of Emma's Kitchen and cross the street, walk up the hill for a bit and it'll be on your left. You'll see a pane of glass in front of the kitchen that allows you to watch them make the noodles.
There is not much nightlife in town. To have a beer, visit a restaurant.
- Good Luck Guesthouse, ☏ . Near the bus station. Dorm rooms should go for ¥12-20, though the owner, Huang Xin, may be reluctant to rent them. Beware of his homemade Bai Jiu.
- Jiaotong Bingguan (交通宾馆). attached to the bus station, has single rooms without a bathroom for ¥25.
- Ice mountain hostel, ☏ , , . The yard left of Emmas kitchen (behind the first hotel which is owned by the "big boss" who organizes horse-trekking tours). Very friendly staff (they run the massage shop right beside Emma's kitchen), internet, electric blankets, clean rooms, laundry service. Prices ¥20-30 per bed. If you can´t find it just ask at Emmas kitchen and she will help you.
There are a couple of (relatively) upscale hotels in town and one or two just north of the bus station. They are mostly aimed at Chinese tourists, but word on the street is that they're pretty nice.
Beware of altitude sickness if travelling here straight from the Sichuan Province lowlands.
There is an internet bar located just across the southern most bridge. If your heading south the internet bar is immediately on the right after crossing the bridge down a few steps along the river. It is ¥6 for one hour.
Supposedly SongPan horse trekking now has a small internet bar. Emma's Kitchen has a computer with internet.
As of June 2017, it is impossible to extend your visa in Songpan PSB. According to Emma's Guesthouse, they stopped since 2015. If you want an information update please contact Emma's Guesthouse: Emma speaks very good English and will help you. If coming from Danba you can do your extension in Maerkang (Barkam). Other PSB in the area: Lanzhou, Kangding, Chengdu & Leshan.
From the bus station in the north of the town, there are buses to Chengdu (11 hours), north to Zoige and Langmusi (5 hours) on the border of Gansu province, and to Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve (2 hours) and Huanglong National Park.